Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't Call Me Tinkerbell: Shawnigan Lake Triathlon Race Report

Ahh triathlon. The newest stupid way for ordinary North Americans to wear masochism and under-achievement on their arm like a Powerbar sponsorship. For some reason, record numbers of people are dragging their asses out of bed at ungodly hours, six days a week, twelve months a year in order to swim, bike or run, just for the opportunity to drag their asses out of bed at ungodly hours three or four times a summer to swim, bike and run all in succession. Make sense? Yeah, it doesn’t to me either, so I had a hard time explaining my presence at a starting line this past weekend among the Subaru-driving, spandex-wearing, gel-eating masses.

There I was, though, reluctantly crouched in the seasonably crisp (read: damn cold) waters of Shawnigan Lake, BC yesterday A.M. with smile on my face, ready to start my second season of thigh-burning mediocrity. Here’s a blow-by-blow account:

Swim – 500 Meters

Remember that time in gym class when the awkward kid with the head gear accidentally kicked you in the face during dodge ball? Imagine being thrown off a dock with anywhere from a few dozen to a couple of thousand awkward kids and then being told to swim to the middle of the lake and back while they all seemingly kick you in the face at once. This is kind of what mass starts in triathlons are like.

My swim this time around went relatively well, considering I added at least an extra fifty meters on because of poor aquatic orienteering skills. There was no shortage of full-on body contact, but I managed to keep a pretty good focus throughout. I had a couple of moments of struggle, but told myself that I’d be damned if I was going to put to waste all of those 6 A.M. walks to the pool in forty-below Yellowknife I undertook over the past winter, so I powered on through and emerged cold, dizzy and disoriented after ten minutes and change.

Bike – 22 Kilometers

The bike is probably my favourite of the three events (read: the one that I am the least bad at), so after a brief fight with my wetsuit in transition I was psyched to get out onto the road. There is a loose washer on my bike which jingles as I ride, ringing like a dainty tea-service bell and making it tough to sneak up on anybody. Within the first kilometer of the ride, a woman many embarrassing years my senior (embarrassing for me, not for her) commented on this warning system and nicknamed me Tinkerbell. The moderate annoyance of this baptism was only aggravated by the fact that I could not shake this woman - #1715 - for the life of me. For the whole ride I would ditch her on the uphills, and she would be right back beside me during a straightaway.

“Jesus lady, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked as she blew by me at one point.

“I don’t know, but it sure isn’t working on hills,” she responded as I cruised by in vertical retaliation a few minutes later.

At first our banter was fairly good-natured, but the more she called me Tinkerbell and the more I passed her on hills, it became clear that we were both becoming thoroughly annoyed by the other. Round about kilometer 13 I cruised past her on the toughest hill of the course. Thinking I had sufficiently put the hammer down and lost her, I celebrated with a feast of Gatorade and chocolate-flavoured GU (this is an “energy gel” that I’m convinced is simply the left-overs from the Betty Crocker factory). No sooner had I thrown down the GU when I heard “Boy, you really thought you lost me there, didn’t you?” in surround-sound fashion coming from behind me, beside me and then in front of me.

Damnit, woman.

Back I went to playing catch-up, until the final hill of the ride. Now it was my turn to be the smart-ass: “Don’t you think this is getting boring?” I asked as we assumed our routine positions.


This time I resolved to be done with number 1715 for good and started pedaling like I did the time Chris Markle and I were playing at the park as ten year-olds and he concussed himself on the maple tree on top of the hill (read: like a kid who thought big trouble was on the horizon and didn’t want any part of it). I gunned ‘er until the end of the ride with my new arch nemesis (you are now exonerated, tort law final exam from last year) nowhere in sight, and celebrated this micro-victory with a few fist pumps as I cruised into transition, having averaged a little more than 30 kilometers an hour.

Run – 5 kilometers

This is a sprinter’s run course, straight and flat. This was slightly problematic for me in that my particular build is great for activities like, say, not sprinting, but isn’t ideal for endeavours such as, well, sprinting. I left transition with a spring in my step and kept up as good a pace as I thought I could. I passed one runner, was passed by a couple myself, and finished the run a little bit slower than I had wanted to. I probably paced myself a little too well and didn’t empty the tank enough, but was psyched to cross the line feeling good. After eating a couple of bananas I made sure to stick around to give 1715 a high-five as she came across. I would have gloated, but I’m sure her grandkids were somewhere waiting for her and I didn’t want to cause her any delays.

All in all, this was a great start to the year at a really professionally put-together race (read: hearing my name announced as I crossed the finish-line made me feel cool). I ran with my good friend Max, who predictably gave me a whooping and finished in 1:12 to my 1:26. He and I have been training for a half-ironman (2k/90k/20k) coming up in a few weeks, which will be a completely different ball game than anything either of us has done to this point. I figure the big race should go alright, but if 1715 shows up things could get messy. I just have to hope that there’s a sale on prunes at the Safeway that day that will keep her away. I’ll keep you posted.



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh Crap, I Forgot

See you next week.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled knitting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sweet Fenway Park

I was really good at being a kid. Some might argue that I still am, and while that may be true, I don’t know that I could have been any better at being a wide-eyed rambunctious eight-year-old. And while collecting frogs and antagonizing my sister were (alright, so the latter could also be mentioned in the present tense) frequent manifestations of my supreme kidness, it was through my endeavours as a young sports fanatic that my ability to be a kid truly shone. The Montreal Canadiens were my heroes, SkyDome my Mecca, and the Edmonton Eskimos my larger-than-life villains. I’m not the rabid sports fan I once was, but old habits die hard, and a seven-hour evening at Boston’s (insert superlative synonym for legendary here) Fenway Park to see the Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night stirred up in me a dormant excitement that I don’t think I had felt in quite the same way since the last time my father ever took me to a hockey game in Montreal (Fall of 1996, Habs versus Colorado).

What follows is an illustrated, blow-by-blow account of how the evening played out for Sarah and me as we celebrated her birthday in perfect New England style (before I get chastised for taking my girlfriend to a baseball game for her birthday, I should say in my defense that she has been a passport-carrying citizen of Red Sox Nation for years, and it is through my relationship with her that I started diggin’ the Sox after the Expos fled Quebec five years ago to escape Celiene Dion). There are some insider sports references here (hi, Teehan and Noel), but hopefully everyone in my mother’s knitting group will still enjoy it (although I know Mrs. O’Malley will, as she’s a bona fide sports fan).

5:45 P.M. We arrive in Boston without a place to stay and decide to head straight to the Park, as a roof over our heads is a petty detail compared with watching batting practice. I approach a scalp-…uuuuhhhh, I mean a “broker on the secondary ticket market” a few blocks from Fenway and score us a pair of stubs to the sold out game for only ten bucks (total) above face value. Somewhere, my father is proud of me.

5:55 P.M. Heading towards Yawkey Way I feel a few stray drops of water on my shoulder, but ignore them knowing that the skies will clear by game time.

6:10 P.M. Here we are (or, “Heah we ahhh”). There is a carnival-like atmosphere around the stadium, and with all of my Sox gear (“geah”) packed away in boxes in Victoria, I buy a $15 “Green Monstah” t-shirt so I can fit in with the tribe. (That’s “tribe” with a small-t, as Cleveland wasn’t playing that night). The rain picks up a little.

6:40 P.M. After wandering around outside for a while, we find our seats in the right field corner (they’re not as close to the infield as the secondary ticket broker promised me - he must have been confused), four rows up from the field. These seats kick-ass. The rain continues, and the tarp is covering the infield, with the scheduled start only twenty minutes away. Looks like we’re in for a rain delay.

7:13 P.M. After enjoying a couple of pizza slices we check on the field again. Still wet, but the scoreboard is keeping us updated (note the time on the bottom right). “Dry the Rain” by the Beta Band is being played over the stadium speakers. Pretentious music snob that I am, I laugh to myself as I assume that I’m the only one in the stadium who recognizes the song and gets the joke.

7:45 P.M. We hang out inside the concourse - where there is a party-like atmosphere - and chat up some locals as the rain continues. Samuel Adams Lager is the darkest, tastiest beer we can find, but they are good enough to charge $7.75 for a pint so it feels like you’re drinking something better.

8:04 P.M. In case we hadn’t noticed that there were no players on the field, the scoreboard continues to keep us updated. Matching public address announcements every half-hour or so state the same thing. Sarah and I spend some time back at the seats sharing a dance, as the rain has let up a little and we’re feeling good. I befriend two older ladies wearing garbage bags and umbrella hats. I think one of them kept her hand over her purse the entire time I was speaking to them

8:35 P.M. Check out the picture below. "We are hopeful that tonight's game will still be played." Yeah, so am I. That’s why I’m still here an hour and-a-half after we were supposed to get going. Note the Celtics game being shown on the big screen.

9:18 P.M. “Umbrella” by Rhianna is played over the loud speakers. Pretentious music snob that I am, I have a smug sense of self-satisfaction as I assume that I’m the only one under thirty in the ballpark who is unable to sing along for lack of knowing the words.

9:05 P.M. The rain looks to be letting up completely, and the infield is being worked on. Awesome. Also, I am within seed-spitting distance Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who is warming up right in front of our seats. I am a little embarrassed about how cool I thought this was, and was fully prepared to trample a ten year-old if Tek tossed a ball in our direction (I would, of course, have made sure she was alright after the fact. I’m a sports fan, not a monster.)

9:12 P.M. We’re going to get a game!

9:25 P.M. Spot the tourists.

9:40 P.M. We’re underway with a decent crowd having stuck it out. I keep score as the game moves along, which adds hugely to my enjoyment and makes me feel cool to boot. The young couple behind us makes their first cell phone call to other friends at the game, standing up, yelling and waving so that their friends can see them. This does not add to my enjoyment of the game as much as keeping score does.

9:45 P.M. The people who were being phoned by the couple behind us come and join them, occupying some adjacent vacant seats. By the end of the fourth inning, I will know of one of the girls in the group: her recent dating history, the reason she doesn’t want to wear togas to theme parties that the local Army reservists have, and how nervous she will be if a foul ball comes our way (this last nugget of information was repeated several times, despite the fact that we were clearly in home run territory).

9:55 P.M. The second cell phone call is made from the seats behind us to friends elsewhere in the park.

10:00 P.M. The recipient of the second call comes down to see his friends, and a heated argument ensues about who has better seats and which group of friends should move to join the other. I have a suggestion.

10:01 P.M. Sox right-fielder Brandon Moss guns down a slow-running Evan Longoria (make your own Desperate Housewives joke, I’m a little tired) trying to score from second on a single by throwing a strike to home from shallow right-center. I’m pretty sure I used to do that sort of thing all the time while playing right-field for the East Nepean Eagles back in the day, but then again I’m also pretty sure that all of the recruiting letters that NCAA Division-1 athletic programs sent me ten years ago must have been lost in the mail, so take that for what you will.

10:12 P.M. After walking the first two batters he faces in the third, Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz gets himself out of the jam by striking out the side. Nicely played.

10:30 P.M. The Sox are on the board with a one-run third inning, followed by a five-run explosion in the fourth with my homeboy Varitek crossing the plate. One of the guys in the group behind us missed most of this, however, as he spent the entire fourth inning trying to dig himself out of the hole he created when he described a female acquaintance as “Not fat, but healthy,” and then didn’t know how to answer appropriately when one of the girls he was with asked “So, does she look like me?” Apparently this was his first experience speaking with a woman.

11:00 I am sitting at Fenway Park with my girlfriend on a crisp Spring night, four rows back from the field and the Sox are on a roll. I am pretty sure this is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to anyone (aside from the time I was told that I had earned three free pizzas from Joey’s in my last year of undergrad, of course).

11:05 P.M. I die a little inside when our friends behind us leave early to go to a party. They aren’t the only ones, though - the crowd is definitely starting to thin.

11: 36 P.M. Check out the picture, and note the time. I think it probably should have said “If you are reading this, you’ve missed your train.”

12:12 A.M. The Sox are sitting pretty with a 7-3 lead through 8. The crowd is really starting to look sparse, and with all of the empty seats I’m concerned that Tampa Bay will start to think they’re playing at home.

12:24 A.M. The words to “Sweet Caroline” are posted on the scoreboard to allow for all six hundred remaining fans to sing along (that is not nearly as much of an under-exaggeration as you think it is).

12: 40 A.M. I get chills down my arms as the Dropkick Murphys tune “Going up to Boston” crackles over the speakers and Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon marches in from the left-field bullpen to put the game away. To be sitting at Fenway with the local Celtic-punk heroes cranking from the speakers and the late-inning assassin charging in from the outfield is up there with the live sporting highlights of my life. For a minute, I forget that I am a tourist and get caught up in a swell of fist-pumping back-slapping homegrown Boston pride. I also feel like I’m in “Major League” watching Rick Vaughan sprint in to the sounds of “Wild Thing”, but I don’t think that Papelbon hooked up with any of his teammate’s wives the night before.

12:43 A.M. No, really, are we at an Expos game in 2001? The numbers on the scoreboard (both above 37, 000) are part of a “Guess the Paid Attendance” game. Ahhh, juxtaposition. At this point I don’t know if there were much more than 1,500 people left in a park where capacity is over 35, 000

12:49 A.M. Sox win!

1:02 A.M. Obligatory tourist shot of the iconic Citgo sign.

And that was our seven and-a-half hour Fenway experience.

Sports-wise, I’ve been lucky in my twenty-seven years (I’ve been lucky in many other ways too, but we’re talking about sports here). I saw the Habs play at the Forum, the Leafs play at the Gardens - unfortunately it was never possible to see an NHL game at the Gardens that didn’t involve the Leafs - and have witnessed a handful of other historical events, including Grey Cups and numerous Ottawa Senators landmarks. This was even my second trip to Fenway. As I alluded to above, this one ranks up there with the best. Something about the buzz of the park, the pride of the locals and the quality of the company made for a truly special night that seemed to be bigger than a game yet never stopped revolving around one.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve barely retained more than a passing interest in major professional sports, and my days of living and dying with my favourties are mostly behind me. That said, every so often I relish the chance to be wide-eyed and eight-years-old again, which is probably why Friday night felt so great. It was a vacation within a vacation, where I was taken back to the days when the men on the field were all older than me and could do no wrong.

While Varitek warmed-up in front of me, I forgot that I’ve seen more concerts than pro sporting events in the past five years. When Buccholz pitched his way out of a jam, he was more of a hero to this green-washed vegetarian than David Suzuki could ever be. And as Papelbon ran in from the bullpen, I saw what I wanted to be when I grow up. For a few precious hours, the Sox reminded me of why I loved being eight-years-old the first time around, and let me hop in the time machine to do it all over again.

Good times never seemed so good.